For the thirty-third consecutive Labor Day weekend, elements of the U.S. espionage establishment gathered for recreation and intelligence-sharing in a remote spot somewhere in North America. Despite harsh conditions, the mood was mostly celebratory.
This year’s attendance was light. There were three of us from B-11 (our barracks number in Company B, Defense Language Institute West Coast Branch, Monterey, California) and six from the 6916th (our squadron at Rhein Main Air Force Base, Frankfurt, Germany), for a total of seven foreign language specialists (two of us were in both units). Charlie Schoonmaker (BU), Greg Kane (BU) and Steve Fournier (HU) from B-11 and Ray Malloy (RU), John O’Donnell (RU), Art Berens (RU), and Len Catapano (PL), plus Kane and Fournier from the 6916th.
These reunions are like a soap opera that airs one episode per year. Even if you only see each other once a year, people you know for a long time become part of your life and you really need to know about things that happened to them since you last got together. Everybody’s past 60 now, so if you survived to Labor Day, you had a good year. Members of our clique tend to be impecunious, which means that financial straits short of starvation are pretty much overlooked. In fact, getting together with other people who drive jalopies and continue to work in their dotage can be uplifting.
A lot of the same stories go around every year. It’s hard to remember which reminiscences came up in which conversations over the last 32 years, and so there’s considerable recycling. The families, who sometimes turn out in large numbers and always have a little reunion of their own, never seem to get bored with the maudlin observations of a half-dozen half-drunk geezers.
This year we gathered at Ray Malloy’s oldest daughter’s estate on a lake in Hobart, New York. It was idyllic: a gated neighborhood on a remote man-made lake on a hill just north of the Catskills. Kirsten, Ray’s daughter, and her husband and four-year old, had spent the whole summer in New York City, where they have a little pied a terre, and this was their first visit to Hobart in months. There wasn’t a lot of furniture, but we brought chairs and a folding table and didn’t need much else. The sky was blue the whole weekend. At night, it got dark enough to see the MIlky Way.
Ruth and I slept on mats in our tent. We still do that, but maybe not for much longer. Charlie, Art, and John also slept on the ground. My son Jake, his wife Alicia, and their kids Reilly Kate and Myles showed up Sunday and stayed over, and it was Myles’ first time sleeping in a tent. We had a little bonfire each night on the lake, which Schoonmaker almost fell into. He was lucky he lurched the other way into bushes alongside the lake. Don’t try to sit in a folding chair on a hill. Especially if you’ve consumed half a case of Genesee.
Art played the guitar and sang ballads Saturday. We usually have Jeff Mohn (6916th RU) or Chet Poslusny (B-11 BU) or both of them for a song fest, but neither of them could come this year. I had my ukulele out for awhile on Saturday, but I suck and left it in the car Sunday night.
Food and drink happen spontaneously some years and by design others. This year, it was spontaneous. I brought sauce, Ray brought corn and salad, and we had pasta on Sunday afternoon. Then we improvised hot dogs, etc., for the rest of the weekend. Scrambled eggs all around in the morning. The beer just sort of showed up.
What you find out from this sort of get-together is that people don’t change much. These guys are not much different from who they were at 22, and they say the same about me (still known for getting my mouth going). Their grown-up kids, too, have been changing only at the margins since they were two and three years old and first got to know their father’s friends. We’ve been through a lot of death and disease together, and we don’t have all the same wives we started with (although I do). And of course we all look like shit, a tragic outcome for Lotharios and would-be romancers. We who used to stalk women together laugh at our reduced powers, and so no tears are ever shed.
There was much discussion of current events, and a good deal of Bush-bashing. The commander-in-chief has no following among our little band of insubordinates. There’s a consensus that values and standards have eroded, that the country’s broken (including the military), and that hard times lie ahead. Not enough to dampen our spirits, however.